What To Say To Your Kids About the Tragedy in Norway
What do you say when words are not enough? What do you tell your child about people being shot just because of where they were? What do you say about teens dying at a camp? It is so hard to say the right things to kids who need words, not silence, when they are scared or feeling anxious because the world seems to be going crazy.
When I am talking to my kids about tragedies I try and always keep in mind that their fears are self-centred and will revolve around their own sense of safety. I try and keep these points in mind from a post I wrote on talking about Haiti, but when confronted with a tragedy that has a madmen at the centre I feel a bit of a loss for words. So I turned to an expert and asked Alyson Schafer, parenting expert and author of Ain’t Misbehaving, about how to handle this kind of situation.
Due to our summer plans, it couldn’t be our usual gabfest (too bad for me, I missed the free advice) so I emailed her some questions and here are her answers:
Me: Is it appropriate to have the news on in front of young kids? What if they see soemthing on the news?
Alyson: For the youngest of children - turn off the news. Read about it when they are in bed. It's not for their eyes or ears. Don't lie to kids, no matter what age, but filter information in a way that is age appropriate and continuing to be reassuring that THEY ARE SAFE. Restoring a sense of security is key to helping kids.
Me: Is it okay to say, a bad person did this? Does that explain it in words kids can understand?
Alyson: I don't like to say anyone is evil, but rather, some people have mental illnesses that makes them have "sick thinking" or act in terrible "sick ways." That is why we must care for everyone, even those who are sick - so they don't hurt themselves or others.
Me: Is it normal for kids to feel scared and sad, even though Norway is far away from their everyday life? Can kids do anything to make themselves feel better?
Alyson: Life will always have tragedies that don't make sense, but mostly life is good and people get along and we are living in the safest time ever as a society. What happened was very far away and the man is with the police and they are making sure he can't hurt anyone again.
If kids would like to make a gesture, perhaps they could write a letter to the families and send it to Norway saying how sad they feel or say something at the family dinner table time to honor those families and youth. Making sense of the situation and DOING something in ACTION helps people process the information better and feel less helpless.
It is normal to feel sad and scared because it reminds us of our humanity and taps into our natural empathy. It also will make anxious people think "What if I was there? What if that was me? What if I saw my friend shot in the water and drowned?" Those people are actively upsetting themselves and need to learn that their system of thinking is impairing them. There are tools that they can learn that will help them deal with their fears. People who are good at seeing and feeling life through another’s perspective can take that talent and use it to be a writer, poet, actor, or therapist!
Did you talk to your kids about Norway? Or did you just avoid the whole topic?